Bangladesh authorities must immediately and impartially investigate the assaults on at least 27 journalists covering recent political rallies and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Saturday, October 28, at least 27 journalists covering rallies in the capital of Dhaka were attacked by supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the ruling Awami League party, as well as police, according to a statement by local press freedom group Bangladeshi Journalists in International Media, several journalists who spoke to CPJ, and various news reports.
BNP demonstrators demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League step down and allow a nonpartisan caretaker government to oversee the upcoming election scheduled for January. Police fired tear gas, sound grenades, and rubber bullets to disperse BNP protesters, who threw stones and bricks in response.
“The attacks on at least 27 Bangladeshi journalists covering recent political rallies in Dhaka must see swift and transparent accountability,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna. “The leadership and supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League, as well as police, must respect the rights of journalists to freely and safely report on the lead-up to the upcoming election scheduled for January.”
Md Rafsan Jani, a crime reporter for The Daily Kalbela newspaper, told CPJ that he was filming BNP supporters allegedly assaulting police officers when two demonstrators approached him and took his phone and identification card. A group of BNP supporters then surrounded Jani and beat him with iron rods, sticks, and pipes as he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist, he said, adding that he managed to escape after around 20 minutes. As of November 1, his items had not been returned.
S A Masum, a photographer for The Daily Inqilab newspaper, told CPJ that he was taking photos of a confrontation between Awami League and BNP supporters when his head was repeatedly struck from behind with what he suspected to be a bamboo stick, knocking him unconscious while the attackers, whom he did not identify, continued to beat him. Bystanders at the scene rescued Masum and took him to the hospital, where he was treated for a concussion and severe bruising and open lesions throughout his body, according to the journalist, who shared photos of his injuries with CPJ.
Md Sirajum Salekin, a crime reporter for the Dhaka Times newspaper, told CPJ that he was on his motorcycle on the way to cover clashes at the chief justice’s residence when a vehicle hit his motorcycle from behind, causing him to fall and break two bones in his right leg. Salekin said he believed he was targeted because he was wearing his press badge and his motorcycle was marked with a sticker of the Dhaka Times, which has critically reported on the Awami League.
Awami League demonstrators beat The Daily Kalbela reporter Abu Saleh Musa while covering their rally, according to The Daily Star.
Mohammad Ali Mazed, a video reporter for the French news agency Agence France-Presse, told CPJ that he was covering a clash between police and BNP demonstrators while holding a camera and press identification when five to six demonstrators surrounded him. The demonstrators damaged Mazed’s camera and other news equipment and beat him on his head, back, and right shoulder with bamboo sticks for around three minutes until the journalist fled the scene with the assistance of bystanders, he said.
Sazzad Hossain, a freelance photographer working with the news website Bangla Tribune and international outlets, including the British newspaper The Guardian and photo agency SOPA Images, told CPJ that BNP protesters threw broken bricks at him and trampled him while he was covering a clash with police.
Salahuddin Ahmed Shamim, a freelance photographer reporting for the news agency Fair News Service, told CPJ that he was covering BNP protesters allegedly assaulting police officers when seven to eight of the party’s supporters surrounded him, beat his backside with bamboo sticks, and kicked him for around 15 minutes.
Two journalists who spoke to CPJ– Sheikh Hasan Ali, chief photojournalist for Kaler Kantho newspaper, and Ahammad Foyez, senior correspondent for New Age newspaper– said they were struck with rubber bullets when police attempted to disperse BNP protesters, leaving them with minor injuries.
Ali told CPJ that an unidentified man hit the Kaler Kantho photographer Lutfor Rahman with a bamboo stick on his right shoulder while covering the same clashes.
Md Hanif Rahman, a photographer for the Ekushey TV broadcaster, told CPJ that he and Ekushey TV reporter Touhidur Rahman were covering an arson attack on a police checkpoint when they were surrounded by a group of 10 to 12 men who beat Md Hanif Rahman with pipes and sticks and pushed Touhidur Rahman.
Rabiul Islam Rubel, a reporter for The Daily Kalbela, told CPJ that he was among a crowd of BNP supporters while covering the clashes at the chief justice’s residence when 15 to 20 men threw bricks at him while shouting that journalists are “government brokers.”
Jony Rayhan, a reporter for The Daily Kalbela, told CPJ that BNP supporters beat him while covering their rally. Rayhan was also injured by a sound grenade that landed in front of him while police were dispersing the demonstrators, he said.
Salman Tareque Sakil, chief reporter for Bangla Tribune, told CPJ that he sustained a leg fracture after a brick was thrown at him while covering the BNP rally.
Jubair Ahmed, a Bangla Tribune reporter, told CPJ that while police were dispersing BNP demonstrators, a tear gas shell landed in front of him, blurring his vision before the protesters trampled him while fleeing the scene.
Tahir Zaman, a reporter for the news website The Report, was also injured by a rubber bullet while covering clashes at the BNP rally, according to his outlet and BJIM.
BJIM and local media named an additional 10 journalists who were attacked, but did not provide details on the incidents, which CPJ continues to investigate. Those journalists are:
- Touhidul Islam Tareque, reporter for The Daily Kalbela
- Kazi Ihsan bin Didar, crime reporter for the Breaking News website
- Tanvir Ahmed, reporter for The Daily Ittefaq newspaper
- Sheikh Nasir, reporter for The Daily Ittefaq
- Arifur Rahman Rabbi, reporter for the Desh Rupantor newspaper
- Masud Parvez Anis, reporter for the Bhorer Kagoj newspaper
- Saiful Rudra, special correspondent for the broadcaster Green TV
- Arju, camera operator for Green TV, who was identified by one name
- Hamidur Rahman, reporter for the Share Biz newspaper
- Maruf, a freelance journalist identified by one name
CPJ is investigating a report of a separate attack on at least one journalist on Saturday.
CPJ contacted BNP spokesperson Zahir Uddin Swapan, Information Minister and Awami League Joint Secretary Hasan Mahmud, and Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Habibur Rahman for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.